Tag Archives: relationships

Tailwinds Past Florence by Doug Walsh

Edward surprises Kara with the bicycling-around-the-world trip she’s been planning for years, failing to inform her that it’s a flight response from being let go from his position and blacklisted in the financial sector. On the US leg of the tour, Edward is offered a job by a host, who insists on an earlier starting time than Kara’s expected two years, forcing Edward to speed up their trip without explanation. In alternate chapters, Italian Alessio and Japanese Hirosama have traveled to the present from earlier centuries and are connected to Kara, as are the Native American and French-Canadian Edward and Kara came across in the American Midwest. Alessio works for Hirosama in Florence as Edward rushes Kara through Europe. In Florence, things reach a breaking point when Kara’s life is endangered and Edward must make a life-changing decision. Walsh portrays well a marriage unraveling from Edward’s hidden agenda, and the confusion wrought by a supernatural experience. While the paranormal aspect brings intriguing elements, it’s superfluous, as Edward’s subterfuge provides a sufficient story arc, and those elements are not explored. However, they could make for an interesting series, with sequels going deeper into the stories of Allessio, Hirosama, the French-Canadian, and the Native American. Dear reader could then find out what happened to the Native American, who was but a footnote in this tale. I received a digital copy of this fascinating story by the publisher Snoke Valley Books through a Goodreads giveaway.

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Maddie fell hard for Ian, British security detail, when she taught English in Bulgaria and her BFF Joanna was a humanitarian working in Macedonia before and during their civil war. He’s hard to pin down, even after she marries him despite Joanna’s inexplicable hostility toward him. He insists on moving from NYC to her small, Kansas hometown, though he spends much of his time in the Eastern bloc, working in a security business he started with his brother after leaving his government position. The story unfolds in layers as it goes back and forth in time and around the globe to explain the horrible murder. Ward does an excellent job evoking sympathy for Maddie, who appears to be on the receiving end of Ian’s PTSD. This novel portrays young American idealists who get caught up in tragedy, differences in maturity levels of best friends, and how lack of self-awareness contributes to obfuscation, as a mismatched romance leads to its horrifying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive this brilliant story from the publisher Park Row Books through NetGalley.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.

Jessica Strawser—Writer, Editor, and Speaker

Photo by Corrie Shaffeld

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations material and abstract.

I’m an organic writer—I think a lot ahead of time about the characters and what my story’s central questions will be, but don’t outline in detail or swear by any particular tools or strategies, beyond reading voraciously, as much as I’m able. I’m very disciplined, with daily and weekly goals, and believe firmly in the power of forward momentum once I get going on a manuscript.

I wrote my first two novels by night, as my babies/toddlers slept, while working a demanding day job as editorial director for Writer’s Digest magazine. Not long after signing the contract for Forget You Know Me, I scaled back my role at the magazine and shifted to writing by day as my primary focus. A writing career involves a fair amount of evenings and weekends for things like book clubs, conferences and festivals, so this is a much more workable focus for my family, which always comes first.

Describe your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including publishing team and timeline. How did your work in the industry prepare you for the writing world as an author?

It’s been a little different for every book, particularly as staffing changes at my publisher have led to a few editorial team transitions, but I’m working at the pace of about a book a year. I refine a draft until I think (hope) it’s close to working as what I envisioned for the story, then get feedback from a few trusted readers and revise yet again before turning it over to my editor. Then comes another round to incorporate the excellent suggestions from her professional eye.

My work in the industry taught me what a team effort publishing is; I have enormous respect for my editors, having been one, and deep gratitude for the efforts of the hardworking support teams—marketing, publicity, design and beyond.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders online and IRL, and how did you get into the Tall Poppies (beyond being an excellent storyteller)?

My family and friends—who’ve seen firsthand my dedication to this craft since long before I ever got published—are my biggest cheerleaders, and their warm support means the world to me.

Also, at the start, were my colleagues at Writer’s Digest—we were all writers with a genuine love for the work we were doing there, and it was humbling to have them so enthusiastically in my corner—as well as a debut author group called 17 Scribes—it was invaluable to be tapped into a network of other authors publishing their first novels in 2017, and many of us remain connected today.

I’d met some of the Tall Poppy Writers through conferences, WD, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and online, and had admired their collaborative spirit and talented body of work for years; I was elated when they invited me to join.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa? Please share fun details about being the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

While I don’t write directly from life experiences, of course we all are heavily influenced by the phases of life in which we find ourselves and the beautiful (and not so beautiful) aspects of human nature that turn our heads. I’d find it impossible to separate the two!

It’s a wonderful honor to be serving as the newly minted Writer-in-Residence for the Cincinnati library system this year; it encompasses more than 40 branches, and I’ll doing community engagement with local readers (visiting library branch book clubs and hosting a podcast) as well as aspiring writers (teaching free workshops and holding office hours, for instance).

What do you love most about your creativity?

Through dreaming up a story from pure imagination, somehow, I end up feeling more like me.

Connect with Jessica:

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Unstrung by Laura Spinella

New England Symphony violinist Olivia Klein Van Doren destroys her husband’s Porsche after he places her mother’s house in financial jeopardy. For her community work, she chooses to volunteer in the class of an inner city high school music teacher, who is the key to her secret, and a lifeline to someone from her past.

Spinella excels at complex characters—Olivia is less endearing than interesting, and yet elicits sympathy. She also presents a marriage of larger-than-life personas who have developed a unique, symbiotic relationship, which does not preclude financial disaster, and survives volatile behavior. The story hinges on Olivia’s ability to finally communicate her needs and be honest with loved ones. A novel by a talented writer inevitably includes a life lesson or two, and a huge takeaway from this one, beyond communication being key, is foregoing judgment on what appears to be obvious. Plus, it’s a good story! I won this novel in a giveaway on Facebook and fell more in love with this author.

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i told the story of Rachel Utagawa, nee Kalama, who lived in the Kalaupapa lazaretto from age 7 when she was diagnosed with leprosy. This book follows her daughter Ruth’s life, from the moment she was taken away from Rachel and her husband Kenji, for her health’s sake. Dear Reader watches her adoptive parents choose her, the half-Japanese, half-Hawaiian 5-year-old at the orphanage, sees her come of age on a California farm, and witnesses her incarceration in the Japanese internment camps in the US during WWII, along with her parents, brothers, husband, and children. This novel connects with the first one when Ruth meets Rachel, in the same scene from Ruth’s perspective this time, a brilliant and heartening re-telling of an emotionally charged meeting.

Brennert traverses the nuances of racism, fear of contagion, and human rights as he tells of the horror of being found out as a victim of leprosy in late 19th / early 20th century Hawai’i, and the dread of a child separated from her family to live with strangers. As with especially well-written historical fiction, the setting of Hawai’i / Moloka’i becomes its own character, showing Hawai’i’s children growing up surfing, the US stealing the islands from the last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, and the evolution of the lazaretto. Brennert touches upon Hawai’ian and Japanese honor, race relations and the lack of internment camps for Japanese in Hawai’i. He digs deep into Hawai’ian folklore, with a supporting character who is a native healer, how the “separating sickness” destroys families, and how friendship blends into family.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this beautiful novel from St. Martin’s Press. I highly recommend reading Moloka’i for full immersion into the multi-generational story.

Forget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser

Liza witnesses, via Skype, a masked man entering her friend’s home while her friend is upstairs tending to a child. She drives all night to make sure she’s okay after her friend doesn’t answer the phone, but Molly, the friend, dismisses the idea that a man came into her house, and she break’s Liza’s heart. Returning home to a life-changing event sends Liza back to her hometown, where no investigation is proceeding for the mystery man. Strawser digs deep into the fears of a married couple in multitudes of trouble, the evolution of friendship, and a reluctant return to one’s roots. She brilliantly intertwines the consequences of the characters’ actions as they rush headlong into premature conclusions. This novel is a great look into love resurrected and the ability to access romantic love after a trauma. Strawser is a talented storyteller. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book from the publisher Macmillan through NetGalley.

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman


Daphne Maritch inherits the yearbook that the class of 1969 dedicated to her mother, their teacher. Attending every class reunion of that year’s class, her mom dashed off judgment calls in that yearbook, while alienating her family further. Daphne has no use for it and tosses it in recycling, only to discover her neighbor has rescued it and has documentary plans for it, focusing on her mother’s life. In her attempt to repossess it, Daphne learns exactly how much she didn’t know about her mother, and how much better her father knows her than she realized. Secrets explode, Daphne explodes…romance ensues.

Lipman creates a character whose complexity makes her less endearing than interesting, leading dear reader to enjoy her ups and downs from outside the emotions, yet still root for her as she makes terrible life decisions. Choices made by all family members in the past reverberate in the presence, causing confusion and offering challenging choices. The integrity of the characters remains resolute as they fluffercate over “9/10 of the law” and “right to know.” This is an absolutely FUN story, whipping back and forth in allegiances, and up and down in storyline. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this fabulous book from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through a Goodreads giveaway.

Flash Fiction Friday: delving into the past to fill out the rest of the year

Revenge Serves None

He looked out the window once more. She’s not out there. She’s gone. What had the note said, something about making him wait 710 hours? Looking at it in writing, it did seem an awful long time to wait for someone, but he hadn’t done it to her all at once. Not as she was planning to do. How many days is 710 hours? Divide by 24 . . . . . he was never very good at math, and she had left a PS that if he wanted a calculator, he’d have to go out and buy one. Dammit.

It took all the discipline she could find within her to stay away from him. He was a drug to her. She’d never tried drugs, other than alcohol, and now not even that. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t even eat chocolate like she used to. But a man that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give her what she needed — this is what kept her hanging in there, day after day, in misery.

I want to do something, but there’s nothing I want to do. If I leave, she’ll return. If I stay, she won’t. As though my behavior has any direct connection to hers. Tomorrow’s Saturday. I’ll just act normal; tell everyone she’s at her mothers’. What’s normal for me? When was the last time I was home on a Saturday? Oh.

She started calling her friends Saturday morning. One by one, she sent them over to the house to ask about her. She wanted to hear the lies he could create upon demand. Her justification was that it would help to get him out of her head, though she knew he was so deeply entrenched that he overshadowed herself.

Saturday started early with a phone call from her most emotional friend, wanting to know if she was ready. What do you mean she’s not there? We have to leave in an hour. She told me to call her early. She changed her mind? But she doesn’t even like her mother! I’ll call her there. Bye.

This friend went to breakfast with her, the first lie to give.

Two hours later, her shyest friend rang the doorbell and waited quietly. He explained to her that she’d gone to her mother’s. She hesitantly said that she would check there, but she wasn’t so sure.

This friend went to lunch with her, the recycled lie to give.

By noon, and with her most neurotic friend standing on the doorstep, he knew he had to cover this one with a story that couldn’t be checked so easily. So he explained very carefully that she had gone away for the weekend to a work-related seminar that he had forgotten about, his being so busy and all.

She saw a matinee with this friend, who had a much better story to share.

Mid-afternoon, the gay friend called for her, refused to believe that she had stood him up, and showed up anyway, said he’d wait for her; he had faith. This man kept talking and moving closer to him, until he suggested he try her mother’s, whose home was close enough to the seminar she might have gone for a late lunch. Okay.

She treated this friend to dinner, and received the extended version of the story.

Just before dinnertime, her brother came to take her to dinner as planned. The only one with genuine plans, he questioned him without mercy, not knowing how cruel he was being.

Remembering dinner plans, she phoned her brother to tell him she was okay. He’d learned not to ask her questions, because she’d learned that from him.

He went to bed and stared at the ceiling for hours. He hadn’t realized how social she was, how busy her life. Perhaps he hadn’t spent enough time with her. He didn’t know any of her friends, and now he’s sure they all think him a bastard. Doesn’t even know where his live-in girlfriend is. He prayed none would come Sunday.

Two years she’d lived with him, he’d built up those 710 hours away from her when she needed him to be with her. Pre-empted by work, sports, beer with the buddies. She loved her friends, but she longed for the intimacy that came with spending time with him, learning to know him, understanding him. Now she just felt mean.

Sunday morning sunrise set on curtained windows, hiding a man with dark circles under his eyes and dishes in the sink. The phone rang. He sat there. The neurotic friend screamed into the answering machine that he was a liar, as she asked co-workers who knew of no seminar. Tell me where she is! He knew not.

Sunday morning was the hardest, without the Sunday comics spread across his nude chest, laughing together. When was the last time he had been there for it? She wondered if he would come to her work Monday. She hoped not. She hoped so. She hoped not.

Late Sunday morning, his friend who’d married her emotional friend began talking to the machine, but finished making lunch and racquetball plans in person. He played badly and ate poorly with a man who had no clue what was going on. His confused friend dropped him off just in time to see her shy friend retreating from the dark house. He went in the back door.

Sunday afternoon, she went to her mother’s to tell her what a wonderful life she had. No, there’s no need to call. I’ll visit again next weekend. Yes, he’s fine, busy as usual. Bye.

Her emotional friend used her key to enter the uninviting house. She found him sitting on the bed, gin bottle in had, country music blaring. She turned off the music. Without looking at her, he said with such pain she knew they’d gone too far, “she’s gone. I don’t know where she is. I’m sorry.” She hugged him.

This friend, who had witnessed the pain on both sides, gave her the plain facts. She called in sick Monday morning, then drove to his work to find he’d done the same. She discovered his pathetic self, curled up, not on the bed, but beside it, newly emptied gin bottle clutched.

He awoke to what he thought was a dream. He was ashamed to be drunk, and said so. He then apologized. She apologized. They lived happily ever after.

No, not really. But he did learn a lesson. Women can sure be mean.

Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach

At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.